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Monday, February 28, 2011

Rob Bell, Hans Urs von Balthasar, universalism

Here's a short video about Rob Bell's forthcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which touches on universalism (h/t A Thinking Reed) ....

There's also a post about the book at Christianity Today - Rob Bell's Upcoming Book on Heaven & Hell Stirs Blog, Twitter Backlash on Universalism.

Universalism isn't just a Protestant thing, of course. Guys like the past Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, and Russian Orthodox bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna have stated they don't believe anyone ends up in an everlasting hell,. Pperhaps Hans Urs von Balthasar is one of the most well known advocates for the idea that if hell does exist, it's empty (Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell). Here are a couple of related articles ... one by Regis Scanlon O.F.M. Cap. blasting Balthasar's view on hell - The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and one by Richard John Neuhaus, defending Balthasar against Scanlon - Will All Be Saved?

My own hope is that there is no hell. I don't want to go to the place where we decide there is a hell but no one goes there, and much less do I like the the idea that people are not sent to hell by God, but that they freely choose it, like Milton's Satan - talk about blaming the victim! :)


Anonymous Victor said...

I think that hell is what we make "IT"

I believe that God loves each and every one of His Children and doesn't want any of U>S to go to any so called Hell

I also feel that good and bad exist in each and every one of His Children who were made in His Image in the beginning and that our conscience has the ability to lead U>S to what we believe to be good and what we believe to be bad so I ask God to grant me the wisdom to know the difference between right and wrong and the difference between good and evil and hopefully my soul and spirit can take "IT" from there and that they will also be able to believe that each and every one of their Godly human spiritual Cells whether living or dead also have the right to exist in a spiritual reality of God's Freedom which I believe He wants for All His Little ONES when they choose and are given a chance to enter God's Book of LIFE!

Does that make any sense Crystal?


9:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor - I think so.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I’ve read Balthasar's book and so I think that Fr. Neuhaus statement — “Balthasar's is a very careful argument, clearly distinguishing between universal salvation as a hope and universal salvation as a doctrine. He supports the former and rejects the latter. In sum: we do not know; only God knows; but we may hope” — is spot on!

Regarding your last sentence, I am not sure it’s about “blaming the victim” as much as it’s about respecting the inviolability of “free will.” I believe it was St. Augustine (I know he is not one of your favorites!) who said “God created us without our cooperation, but He will not save us without it.”

I hope your back is better now!

Pax my friend.

1:33 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

Actually, I just re-hurt my back yesterday so I'm starting all over again. Hard to sit at the computer "(

Yeah, none of us knows who, if anyone, is going to hell but I find it strange how many really like the idea that there is a hell and that a number of people are headed there/already there.

I sort of hate that free will defense of hell. I think that was CS Lewis' idea too - that people end up in hell by their own choiece. - and I think people like it because it seems to get God off the hook for everlastingly torturing people. I see little sign of free will in respect to the relationship between us and God in the bible .... God creates the universe and its creatures but asks no one if that's ok with them, he constantly intervenes in people's lives in the OT and NT but almost never asks those he affects if it's ok with them .... why would our fragile and limited ability to make free chiuces in regards to his cosmic blueprint suddenly become such an issue at death?

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I am sorry you heart your back again Crystal - that sucks!

Well I believe it because it's been revealed by Christ and is taught to us by His bride the Church - see question #213 in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states:

213. How can one reconcile the existence of hell with the infinite goodness of God?

God, while desiring “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), nevertheless has created the human person to be free and responsible; and he respects our decisions. Therefore, it is the human person who freely excludes himself from communion with God if at the moment of death he persists in mortal sin and refuses the merciful love of God.

Greater minds than ours have debated this part of Divine revelation for centuries and I don't think we're going to add any new insights about it tonight my friend.

Feel better and try to rest.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I meant hurt your back in the first sentence - I am tired!

4:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks about my back. It gets a little better every day - I just have to be careful not to mess it up again.

Yeah, I am disturbed by those places in the NT where Jesus talks about hell. I just really want it to not be true :)

7:20 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Another thought .... that catechism quote about God being too nice to send people to hell, but only allowing them to go because he respects their free will choice to do so seems to have nothing to do with the few mentions in the NT about hell: Matthew 7: 21-23 The bible treats hell as a place where no one wants to go.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Crystal - your new comment deals with Divine Revelation and its transmission and so I have a two-part question:

Is Divine Revelation confined to the pages of a book?

Or is the author of Divine Revelation a Living Person who who continues to communicate to us through His bride?

5:15 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This is a trick question :)

Yes, I think God continues to communicate. But this is such a messy subject.

Although Paul's accounts are said to be the oldest, I pay most attention to the gospels because I think the info in them is the closest I can get to what Jesus said and did, as they're based on memories of people who knew him. I don't think they are perfect representations of what he said and did - I think they're comprimised in many ways - but I I trust them over Paul, over the early church fathers, over everything else including present day church teaching. The only thing I question them with is my own prayer life and my conscience, because I want to hope that those are a direct, if imperfect, link to God.

So, long story short, if there was a conflict between the gospels and church teaching, I would give more weight to the gospels with moderation from my conscience and prayers.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

And you’ve given a trick answer my smart friend! Alright, I accept your challenge to engage in playful round or two of “converts fight” - especially since we haven’t done it in a long time!

I see, so you believe in a sort of “inner enlightenment” and thus reduce the Christian experience to a merely interior experience. Well, would you then agree to my changing Our Lord’s words to St. Peter to read: ...and on this rock I will build my gospel? That seems to sum up what you are implying.

Additionally, it seems that the Holy Spirit is using a method that heightens confusion - a feat that human beings are already capable of performing themselves - and so if His task to “guide us into all truth” then He is failing miserably!

7:58 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


You wrote ...

you believe in a sort of “inner enlightenment” and thus reduce the Christian experience to a merely interior experience. Well, would you then agree to my changing Our Lord’s words to St. Peter to read: ...and on this rock I will build my gospel?

No, not just interior experience - thus the gospels, which are not the fruit of somone's interior experience (like Paul's visions), but actual rememerances of a real person's acts and words.

And about gospels vs the church .... I just don't see how those words of Jesus can be so stretched to imply that 2000 years after he spoke them, they mean the presently existing Catholic church can't get stuff wrong. Seems like you invest those words with a lot of baggage :)

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Your claim is that you read a section of a book that contains “remembrances of a real person’s acts and words” and that “The only thing I question them with is my own prayer life and my conscience, because I want to hope that those are a direct, if imperfect, link to God.”

Do you remember the story of Philip and the Ethiopian from the book of Acts (Acts 8:26-39)? Are you Philip? Are you the Ethiopian? Both?

Regarding your last paragraph, the “presently existing Catholic Church” includes you and me. Well I certainly get things wrong, do you? But, I also get things right and so do you! The question revolves around the criterion for judgment doesn’t it? BTW, there are many models of the Church aren’t there? (See “Models of the Church” by Avery Dulles.) Perhaps we would disagree on the what’s the best model of the Church, perhaps not, but it seems as if we might agree on the fact that it’s a both/and rather than either/or situation when it comes to the gospels vs. Church debate.

5:00 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm not Philip as he knew Jesus when Jesus was alive on earth and saw what he did, heard what he said - I don't think a prayer experience of Jesus is the same as that kind of experience. Also I'm not the Ethiopian, as I don't think I could believe in Jesus soley on the word of someone else, even someone who'd known him, without some kind of religious experience of my own to back it up. It's all kind of a balancing act for me, each thing depending on the other, none being able to stand alone :)

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

You should have studied Kung-Fu (like I did) instead of Karate because you are a master at deflection! ; )

Literally speaking, you are right because you are Crystal.

However, you know the point I am making because I am addressing the question – do you understand what you are reading? – to you.

Or better yet, how do you know that your interpretation is correct? I know you had to seriously look at that question at some point (and mabe even today becuase I prompted you) because you, like me, converted to the Catholic Christian Faith as an adult.

If you want to stop playing, let me know.

However, although we are being playful these topics are not playful issues because they lead directly to a very important question: Are we following the authentic Christ (a Christ with a vanishing point outside of me) that I objectively follow or are we following a Christ of our own creation?

For me, when I follow a Christ of my own creation He never seems to surprise me or disturb my little world! Weird, isn’t it?

1:28 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm not really trying to avoid the questions. I'm actually pretty confused about the whole idea.

I didn't believe for a long time - like you mention, I was also an adult convert. What made me believe? I'm not sure exactly. I think it was a combination of my desire for a God who is good and loves me to really exist, the "testimony" of someone I respected very much, and some religious experience in that retreat. I don't think any of the above alone would have caused me to believe.

I don't know for sure if my Jesus is the real one or just one I make up, so that's why I pay attention to the gospels - I hold him up to them, and I hold them up to him, trying to see if they match. Still, there's no way to know for sure if the Jesus of my prayer life is the real Jesus - I just try to trust that he is, while also taking what he says with a grain of salt. If you might say all I have to do is believe what the church tells me about Jesus to know the real Jesus, I'm afraid I just don't trust the church to that degree.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal - I am sorry I have not replied to your last comment yet but I was sick these last few days and not checking blogs, etc.

I promise to write something in a day or two. I hope your back is getting better day by day!

9:28 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Henry, I hope you feel better soon too.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Newman when ask to toast the pope: I toast the pope, but my conscience first.

Henry:I don't need to think. I just believe what the Church says in all matters. What an easy life:)

3:54 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jack, be nice :)

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I understand completely because there are still many things about the Catholic Christian Faith that I find confusing. When I talk to craddle Catholics they really can't fathom how strange Christianity really is to someone not raised in it!

However, your experience, like mine, demonstrates that Christianity is an event, an event that has the form of an encounter, and encounter which has carries within it an ontological satisfaction.

What do I mean? Let’s look at what you wrote. (Now this is going to be a very long catechetical response over several comments so please bear with me!)

You said: “What made me believe? I'm not sure exactly. I think it was a combination of my desire for a God who is good and loves me to really exist…” Fr. Giussani taught that us this desire is part of what he called the human person's "religious sense." By that he means “that engine inside of us that makes us look for a totalizing love, a totalizing happiness, a totalizing justice, a totalizing truth, etc. And he always provoked us in CL to ask, “why do you have this drive? Is there something that can satisfy it?” If the answer is no then someone is playing a cruel joke on us.

You then said: “…the "testimony" of someone I respected very much, and some religious experience in that retreat. I don't think any of the above alone would have caused me to believe.” You are right and it’s precisely here that you see the method of God, a method that both you and I experienced; a method that we see played out in the first chapter of Gospel of St. John! And that method is expressed in the phrase Caro Salutis est Cardo.

end of part 1 .

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I started thinking about this one day when I asked myself a simple question: Is Christ Gone? I started this investigation because when I heard people say, Christ is NOT gone I wasn’t convinced because I said to myself, Christ is gone – after all, He ascended into heaven didn’t He? I realized though, that my objection highlighted that I did not fully understand the method God used and continues to use.

So I started at the beginning, i.e., I started with the incarnation. What is the “method of the incarnation?” Simply put, I realized that it’s the fact that the Holy Spirit overshadowed matter (Our Lady) and Christ became present. (The same thing happens at Mass!)

Ok, so then Christ lived a life, died, rose from the dead, and then ascended into heaven. And because He ascended into heaven, we generally think that He is gone forever. However, is Christ actually gone?

So I started looking at His actions after the Resurrection to see if I could find an answer. Well, I noticed a few things. First, in the book of Acts He tells them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why?

I spent a long time thinking about this and then I realized that it’s because He is faithful to the method of the Father, a method that allows Him to remain present in history as “the Church.” And why does He want to stay in history? Because He loves us, wants to be with us, and wants to save us by allowing us to encounter Him! And how does He do this? By clarifying, educating, and saving our religious sense!

end of part 2

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

The link between Christ and the Church.
At that point it became clear to me that there is a real and concrete link between the Living Christ and the Church and so I want to take a few moments to examine this link with you.

A. The word “Church” indicates a historical phenomenon whose only meaning lies in the fact that it enables men and women to encounter the living Risen Jesus Christ now and to attain certainty about Him. For it is not a question of how God enters the world (the method is called incarnation) but where? The problem is not how but where! (see paragraph #s770, 771, 774–776, 779, 788, 789 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). After all, the encounter has to be the same, the historical continuity must be the same, otherwise we compromise the original Incarnation. (I.e., if no historical continuity exists then Christ constantly dis-incarnates Himself.) (CCC #775)

B. So the problem of the Church is exactly the problem of the “incarnation” (#457, 483, 771) because the Church’s most specific claim is not just that it is the vehicle of the divine, but that this vehicle works through human reality. This is the crux of the problem: a human phenomenon claiming to be the bearer of the divine, whereby, through the Church’s presence in human history, the problem Christ raised is reproposed in all its scandal. The Church challenges history, just as Christ challenged his own time. Better still, through the Church, Christ continues to challenge time.

What is the “scandal of the incarnation”? That the Flesh is the instrument of Salvation! Caro Salutis est Cardo

C. The Church’s description of Herself (from Dominus Iesus):

The Lord Jesus, the only Savior, thus did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: He Himself is in the Church and the Church is in Him. Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues His presence and His work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church, which is His body. And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”. This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2, 9). Note then, the Church is an organism BEFORE it is an organization.

end of part 3

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

This fact, the Church is an organism and not merely an organization, highlights two vital characteristic of the Church:

A. Christ and the Church are one. Think about Genesis – the two become one – they are both still each Adam and Eve, but they are now one. That’s why we say that Christ and the Church are one!

B. The body is important! In the Scriptures, the body has immense significance – i.e., it signifies something. The body is not just a part of the person; it is the person insofar as the person belongs to the physical world. We are not souls that happen to be attached to bodies; rather, we are body persons! Even our language recognizes this truth. For example, you don’t hear a child say: “stop hitting my body!” but rather “stop hitting me!” We don’t say, “John’s body has cancer,” but, “John has cancer.”

The body, then, is the visible expression of the person. Or, as Pope John Paul II puts it in the Theology of the Body, the body is the sacrament of the person. The Pope uses the word sacrament in the broad sense to mean “a visible sign of an invisible reality.” The body is thus the outward sign that reveals the inner person.

This is why the CCC calls the Church the universal Sacrament of Salvation (see CCC 775 & 776). Why? Because the Church presents itself in history as the Body of Christ; that is, as an organism that’s part of the living Christ, the author of Salvation. All other reflections, all other considerations, flow from this fact.

How can I encounter Christ today?
So how can I, how can we, now, after two thousand years, encounter Jesus Christ today?

At Christ’s explicit request and desire (see Mark 6:7-13 & He who hears you hears Me – Luke 10:16), His Presence remains in history through those He has claimed as His own, that is, His Presence is manifest in and through the Church: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Thus the Christian community is the face of Christ in our life because Jesus communicates Himself to us through this human reality called the Church – and that is the supreme value of the Church.

And this is what happened to both of us, we met Christ through His people. And that’s why I am, and still remain, a Roman Catholic Christian.

end of part 4

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

As you can see (from the long comments) I feel better and I hope you are felling better too!

Last question: would you prefer that I respond to you via e-mail or here? I am asking because I don't want to use up all your comment space with long replies.

BTW, beautiful pictures as always! Any word on the drawing?

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I think you are joking but if you are not — wow, your experience of the Catholic Christian life is so different than mine! I find that my freedom and my reason are enhanced and ennobled by the Faith, not diminished – as you imply!

11:54 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for that explanation. I think I see now how we two went different ways.

You see Jesus existing now as the church, but I see him existing now as himself, available through prayer to individuals. And I see the church as a bunch of individuals together because of a commone interest.

Jesus isn't gone, no, but he hasn't become an institution, he's still himself. I think, and I may be being uncharitable, that the church has kind of tried to put Jesus in a box (the eucharist) that they have the sole proprietary rights to, but I don't think he can be so limited. This is a big thing for the radical orthodoxy guys like John Milbank - that God can only be found in church, that God and the church are one, that the eucharist is the way to interact with God.

But If I did think that Jesus was only accessable through church, I don't think I would have become a Christian because the thing that so impressed me in that retreat I took was the possibility of personal interaction between individuals and Jesus. Ignatius said God deals directly with his creatures and I want to believe that.

The drawing - I gave up for the time being. I keep trying to motivate myself to start again but so far it hasn't worked.

Talking here is ok. Maybe someone else might have something to add? But if you have stuff to say you'd rather not say here, then email.

I'm glad you're feeling bettr! Me too. Soon I may be able to move my computer back to the low table and sit on the floor again, I hope.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


Ah …OK, I actually think we are closer than either one of us realizes.

I also see Jesus existing as Himself and that’s why I said that “at Christ’s explicit request and desire (see Mark 6:7-13 & He who hears you hears Me – Luke 10:16), His Presence remains in history through those He has claimed as His own, that is, His Presence is manifest in and through the Church: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Thus the Christian community is the face of Christ in our life because Jesus communicates Himself to us through this human reality called the Church – and that is the supreme value of the Church.”

So let’s call this the normal way that Christ uses His freedom to stay with us in time and space. Does that mean He is bound by it – NO – He has freedom and can do whatever he wants! Does that mean we are bound by it? I believe the answer is yes because it’s the method HE decided to use so that we can encounter Him now. (BTW, one gets a hint at this in this paragraph from the Catechism - #1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.)

And you are certainly right when you say that we – or rather, that He encounters us in prayer.

While it is true that the church can be looked at “as a bunch of individuals together because of a common interest.” Is that really what the Church is, in her essence? Then why can’t you and I and everyone start a “Perspective” book club and then call it a Church? After all we would fit that definition wouldn’t we?

Also, your definition presupposes that we are the protagonists and not Another – Another who has called us to be part of His body through Baptism.

Regarding your paragraph about the Eucharist, I understand your objection but I have a question: What about if it was Jesus Himself that decided to “put Himself in the box called the Eucharist?” And, additionally, what if He was the one that decided that certain conditions had to be met in order to participate in the meal of the New Covenant? Would that put a new color on things?

Now if it were true that Christ is the protagonist and that we, the Church, are simply adhering to His wishes, then we will (either consciously or unconsciously) accuse God of being undemocratic and demand that He bend to our will. I, like you, had to work through this charge and that’s not a one time work! And I, like you, felt that I had to do this work otherwise I would be betraying myself and my desire to follow the truth.

Lent begins tomorrow and I have decided to fast from the internet since I can’t fast from food because of my diabetes. I will use my free time for more prayer and charitable works and I will remember you during that time. So, after tonight, I will check e-mail and my favorite blogs only on the weekend.

Have a blessed and fruitful Lent my friend! Many blessings on you and your sister!

1:15 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I think those NT passages show Jesus sending out apostles to help others in his name, but I don't see them meaning that the church has taken the place of Jesus or stands in his stead after his death. I think the same is true of the eucharist .... a lot of assumptions are being made by the church, a lot of interpretation of scripture, but I just don't see any compelling reason to accept the church's assumptions and interpretations when they seem to go so far beyond Jesus' actual words, and especially when the result of those assumptions and interpretations leads to excluding people.

I guess we'll not come to agree about this topic, but on a deeper level, I think we agree on the more important stuff :)

Happy almost Lent. I hope to hear from you on the weekends when you have time. Take care of your health. God bless :)

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Thanks Crystal, please take care of your health also!

I will respond the same way I respond to those who have raised the same objections to me before: "Sell it to me! In other words, give me the "reasons" why I should believe "your assumptions and interpretations" are true? After all, your reasons - like mine - must be able to withstand scrutiny. As Don Gius always told his students: "I don't want anyone to be persuaded, but neither do I want anyone to reject what I say unless he or she has at least weighed the reasons I give."

But you are right that we agree on many things and I am grateful for that.

How is your back? Better I hope. TTYL.

11:45 AM  

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